Beetles, caterpillars, and other trifles


The gardener demanding unblemished foliage in the garden is likely to be satisfied only by spraying poisons potent enough to kill every beetle (and earthworm) within a country mile (or a city block). A more disagreeable gardener might suggest artificial foliage to address complaints. There are no such high standards in this garden (Japanese beetles on Ostrich fern, below).Japanese beetles on Ostrich fern Uppermost foliage of Oakleaf hydrangeas (below) in the dry shade of the side garden has been skeletonized by beetles or caterpillars. The culprits are nowhere to be found, but the minor damage is not worrisome. Nearby, sphinx moth larvae have completely defoliated the catalpa for a second year, though these have also moved on to the next stage of their life cycle. The foliage will grow back just in time for the tree to go dormant in October, but this hardly seems to bother it.Oakleaf hydrangea with beetle damageCatalpa is practically a weed, though this one was planted and not sprouted from seed as so many are in the nearby forest. Unfortunately, in several years the catalpa has not flowered, but I hold out hope. The large leaves, when not eaten by caterpillars, are pleasant enough even if there are never flowers, though its form lacks symmetry and is unlikely to satisfy most gardeners. Most certainly, catalpa is nearly a weed, and most gardeners are happy not to have ones fifty feet tall in their gardens. Of course, it is a treasures in this garden, where asymmetry and bugs are celebrated (except the hordes of mosquitoes, which are tolerated for lack of acceptable measures to be rid of them).

Stinging caterpillars of White Flannel moth on Silver Cloud redbud
Stinging caterpillars of White Flannel moth on Silver Cloud redbud

Curiously, caterpillars that defoliated redbuds (above) and Golden Chain trees (below) in recent years have not reappeared this summer, though I did nothing to prevent their return. Caterpillars that chewed every leaf on one ‘Silver Cloud’ redbud, and half of another last summer were a stinging type, and I did not relish their return, having suffered through too many painful encounters. Still, I did not spray, and the trees recovered nicely.

Caterpillars on golden chain tree
Caterpillars on golden chain tree

Japanese beetles are a scattered few in this garden, perhaps because birds are so numerous, but certainly not because I’ve done anything to limit their numbers. On occasion, I will shoo them off a flower onto which they have convened, which does not seem to deter them for long, but the blooms are preserved for another few hours. Otherwise, the beetles (Japanese beetles on a Gordlinia flower, below) do little damage in this garden, and there is no long term injury. No doubt, there is damage to some foliage, and perhaps this is the cause of the damage to the hydrangeas, but it is too little to cause a bother.   Japanese beetles on Gordlinia flower

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Melinda says:

    Thank you for the Gordlinia photo; that could very well be what I have. I was hoping for the fabled Franklinia, but this is far North even for a Gordlinia, so I am happy (zone 6a).

    1. Dave says:

      Gordlinia is flowering now, and Franklinia will bloom in a few weeks. The other tree with similar flowers is Stewartia, which would be considerably more cold hardy. It flowers in late spring.

      1. Melinda says:

        Now I’m totally confused. My mystery tree has just started flowering this week, has striped bark (not flaking), is deciduous, has interesting seed pods, multi-stemmed, etc.. I have another tree that is a weeping deciduous conifer. The former owners of this place must have been having a great time finding odd trees. I’m loving it.

      2. Dave says:

        Sorry, I’m out of ideas on what the Stewartia/Gordlinia/Franklinia flowers could be. For the deciduous conifer, there are two obvious choices, weeping larch and bald cypress. A few years ago ‘Falling Waters’ bald cypress was a popular new introduction, so without seeing it, that’s a good bet. I planted ‘Falling Waters’ a few years ago from a group that was heavily discounted because the grower couldn’t sell them, so apparently the novelty has worn off.

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